No salary was retained in the deal, which is the main benefit for a Capitals organization that was handcuffed by Laich’s $4.5 million cap hit this season and next. Unfortunately for Laich, this appears to be the best Capitals team that he was a part of in his 11 seasons in Washington, and any potential Stanley Cup run will happen without him.
The upside is that the Capitals can now add up to $2.2 million in annual cap hit by Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline without dipping into long-term injured reserve relief, according to generalfanager.com. (Washington placed defenseman John Carlson on long-term injured reserve on Sunday morning, so his nearly $4 million cap hit is off the books, but it’ll be back if he’s activated in the regular season).
“Daniel is a versatile player who plays with grit and can be used in all situations,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said in a statement. “This move enables us to add some depth to our forward group and balances our lineup. We would like to thank Brooks for all of his contributions to our organization over the past 10 years. Brooks is a true professional and we wish him all the best in the future.”
The writing appeared to be on the wall for Laich, who has just one goal and six assists this season, playing in every game and mostly on the fourth line. He was once a productive player, posting five straight seasons with at least 37 points. But injuries and age have taken their toll. Entering the season, MacLellan said he expected more production. When asked about Laich on Thursday, he said he’s “been a good soldier.”
MacLellan was then asked if that meant the organization had to be loyal in return. His answer was telling.
“I mean, it’s still a business, so that always creeps in,” MacLellan said. “I mean, emotionally, yes, but the business part does kick in. There’s a point where, you know, there’s a business decision that needs to be made. That’s just what it is. You can’t get around it.”
Business kicked in on Saturday when Laich was placed on waivers. The Capitals brushed it off as a procedural move, as he wasn’t likely to be claimed with that hefty of a cap hit. He played in his last game in a Washington uniform on Sunday afternoon, 30 minutes after he officially cleared waivers.
Laich, 32, earned 324 points (133 goals and 191 assists) in 743 games with Ottawa and Washington. Laich ranks eighth on the Capitals franchise games played list (742) and seventh on the franchise shorthanded goals list (10). Laich goes from the league’s best team to its worst, a 42-point difference between them.
“This is the best team that I’ve ever played on,” Laich said of the Capitals on the Junkies radio show in January. “As far as my tenure here, in a little over a decade, this is undoubtedly the best team that I’ve been on.
In Winnik, the Capitals get a versatile depth forward, the move MacLellan said he wanted to make, as he was pleased with the team’s top three forward lines. The 30-year-old has registered 198 points (62 goals and 136 assists) in 625 career NHL games with Arizona, Colorado, San Jose, Anaheim, Pittsburgh and Toronto. He tallied 14 points (four goals and 10 assists) in 56 games with the Maple Leafs this season.
Winnik ranked second among NHL forwards in shorthanded time on ice per game last season (3:16) and set career highs in assists (25) and points (34). He also has a substantially smaller cap hit than Laich, with an average annual value of $2.25 million on a contract that runs through the end of next season, per generalfanager.com. That cap flexibility will be needed in the offseason, as Marcus Johansson, Dmitry Orlov, Tom Wilson and Michael Latta are all restricted free agents after this season.
The price for dumping Laich’s contract was a second-round draft pick and Carrick, a 21-year-old defenseman that registered six points (one goal and five assists) in 37 career NHL games with Washington. He may not have convinced the organization he’s ready for a jump to the NHL, as he’s arguably undersized and struggled in the three games he played with the Capitals this season. He had earned 26 points (10 goals and 16 assists) in 47 games with the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate this season.
The Laich trade was the second of the day for Washington. Earlier Sunday, it acquired Ryan Bourque from the New York Rangers for Chris Brown in a swap of minor league forwards. Bourque will report directly to Washington’s American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey.